28/02/2008

Rail Boss Knighted As Company Suffers Record Fine

Network Rail has been fined a record £14 million by the Office of Rail Regulation for engineering work which overran during Christmas and the New Year.

The fine was imposed for three serious overruns during the festive period, the worst of which was on the West Coast Main Line at Rugby in the West Midlands. The work overran there by four days, which caused massive disruption.

Engineering work also overran at Shied Junction near Glasgow, affecting ScotRail services, and at London's Liverpool Street station.

The announcement of the fine comes on the day that Network Rail Chairman Ian McAllister is officially knighted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace for his services to transport.

In contrast to the royal honour, the Office of Rail Regulation slammed the company's performance and said that the size of the fine was intended to reflect the serious nature of the breach, the impact it had on passengers and rail freight users and the need for the company to take "urgent action" to improve its approach.

The regulator also ordered Network Rail to "remedy systematic weaknesses in its planning and management of engineering projects and in its communication with train operators about progress with such projects".

Commenting on the fine, Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson Norman Baker said: "This sounds like a huge fine, but it is a pointless one. All it means is Network Rail will have £14 million less to invest in railways, and the Chancellor £14 million more in his coffers. This is actually bad news for passengers.

"The only sensible leverage over Network Rail in its present structure is to actually penalise directors through their bonuses.

"The rules on track working must be reformed and moved back to a system of single line work, which would allow travel to continue during engineering, rather than shutting down the whole network."

Network Rail also outlined plans today for line closures over 13 weekends this summer in order to complete its upgrade. Some line closures are already planned over Easter and the bank holidays.

(KMcA)


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